Yet another article by Brian regarding a study of ESP and OBE.

On the Latest Study of ESP & OBEs

The most recent study that examines the possibility of OBE in relation to ESP performance was reported by two Italian researchers, Guido Del Prete _and _Patrizio Tressoldi (2005), in the latest issue of the Journal of Parapsychology. Their study, inspired in part by the successful ESP/OBE study by Palmer and Lieberman (1975) described in my review post, in particular focused on the possibility of enhancing ESP performance through an altered state of consciousness, specifically the hypnagogic state (the state between wakefulness and sleep). Simon Sherwood (2002) of the University College Northampton has done extensive research over the past few years on the possible relation between hypnogogic states and the experience of ostensibly anomalous phenomena (to include hallucinations of a sense of presence related to apparitions, sensations of body paralysis or weightlessness that may given the impression of OBE, and the experience of ESP-like dream imagery), finding that, although many natural hypnagogic experiences may be misinterpreted as being anomalous, some may also be influenced by ESP and other psi processes. The study by Del Prete and Tressoldi explores that possibility further in a lab setting by attempting to artificially induce a hypnagogic-like state in their study participants through hypnosis (this hypnagogic-like state was characterized by deep muscle relaxation, slow and calm breaths, reports of seeing spontaneous images, slow eye movement, and a sensation of hand paralysis). The OBE aspect comes in through Del Prete and Tressoldi giving the participants suggestions emphasizing the experience of OBE while they are in a hypnotic state (e.g, they gave the participant indirect suggestions on the experience of flying away from the body, and words of encouragement to believe that OBE was possible and to want an OBE to happen during the test).

Over the course of several days, 12 participants selected on the basis of their scores on two psychological scales went through the ESP task either in a hypnotically-induced hypnagogic state, or in a self-induced relaxation state (in the latter case, the participants were free to choose the techniques they used to relax themselves). Each participant was asked to lie down on a couch in front of a computer screen in one room. After being put into either the hypnagogic or the relaxed state, the participant was shown four neutral pictures (i.e., pictures that were not expected to produce a large degree of emotion, such as landscapes, buildings, animals, flowers, etc.) one at a time, and then the four pictures were shown in a group so that the participant could choose which one they thought was the ESP target. At the same time, the picture of the actual target, randomly selected by the computer, was being shown on a monitor in an empty room at a distance from the one the participant was in, by way of a computer connected to the one showing the pictures to the participant. During the test, the participant was encouraged to imagine going into the distant, empty room and seeing the target picture being shown on the monitor in there. It was hoped that if the hypnagogic state did not induce an OBE-like experience, then it would at least increase the participant’s confidence in their ability to see the target in the room (i.e., to increase their confidence in ESP). Following this line of thought, Del Prete and Tressoldi hypothesized that the hypnagogic state would show better ESP scoring than would the relaxation state.

The results of the study did indeed appear to support their hypothesis: 10 out of 12 of the participants scored higher in the hypnagogic state than in the relaxed state (the average amount of hits in the hypnagogic state was 37.5%, whereas it was 24.2% in the relaxed state; we would expect an average of 25% by pure chance alone). The difference in performance across these two states was also significant by statistical standards, with odds of about 500 to 1 against it being due to pure chance alone. The possibility that the success in the hypnagogic state may be directly associated with participants having an OBE is not very big, however, with only 2 participants reporting sensations that tend to be associated with an OBE (e.g., they reported hearing a clicking sound upon separating from their body, and they reported vibrations within their physical body). Despite this, Del Prete and Tressoldi think that their results suggest that inclusion of OBE suggestions in the hypnotic technique might have contributed to the success in this state (they suggest that it may have increased the participants’ expectations and confidence in their ability to perceive the target in the other room by ESP).

The results are promising, more for the exploration of the hypnagogic state than for OBE, and further study is warranted. The only potential concern I see is with the possibility of sensory leakage through the two connected computers that displayed the targets. This is a very minor concern, but even so, checks should be made to reduce cross-talk between them as a potential influence on the results. Del Prete and Tressoldi note that they are planning further studies, and hopefully further refinement will eliminate further concerns, yet maintain a good hit rate. We shall see.

– Bryan

References (in order of text citation):

Del Prete, G., & Tressoldi, P. E. (2005). Anomalous cognition in hypnagogic state with OBE induction: An experimental study. Journal of Parapsychology 69(2), Fall. pp. 329 – 339.

Palmer, J., & Lieberman, R. (1975). The influence of psychological set on ESP and out-of-body experiences. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 69(3), July. pp. 193 – 213.

Sherwood, S. J. (2002). Relationship between the hypnagogic/hypnopompic states and reports of anomalous experiences. Journal of Parapsychology 66(2), June. pp. 127 – 150.